L’Annonciation

Ooh, this was a doozy of a drawing. I was half way done before I realized I didn’t like what I was doing, so I started again.

I’m learning that I developed a heavy hand from line drawings I’ve done in the past. My hand wants to correct mistakes by going over the mistaken line until it’s so thick it’s brought closer to a better line. It’s a bad habit, which has as much to do with confidence than it does with having enough experience (in one’s mind and in one’s hand) to draw the right line, which — hey — are two things copying line drawings can help you develop.

L’Annonciation (1526), by Albrect Durer, is particularly unforgiving. You can’t get away with thicker lines, because he has such a delicate hand. With every thin line you redraw as a thick line, the picture changes a little, until you have a different style of drawing; and it’s Durer delicate style that makes his drawings so beautiful.

First Attempt:

I started by doing all the easy things, namely the top half and the lines that give perspective.

I did this so that I could build up some confidence for myself. At first glance, this picture looked fairly straight-forward to me, but after taking so many hours on the easy stuff, I realized I’d been hiding from my own feelings of intimidation… There’s so much going on here.

The carbon copy I made was a mess of blurry lines (again). I tried redoing parts of it, section by section, but I wasn’t asking myself what made this a great picture… and when I made the face of the angel kind of gloopy, I had to start over.

Second attempt:

My first attempt helped me slow down and appreciate the details that looked “charming” to me. I would regret ruining these elements, because while these details are a part of a larger story, each can stand on their own as well and look just as charming. (I’m referring to the face of the angel and the face of the girl, the drapery of the clothes ((a) the sleeves of the angel, (b) the sleeve of the girl, (c) the leg of the angel stepping forward, (d) the mid-section of the angel and (e) how the robe follows the posture of the angel), the posture of the angel, the hand of the angel, the lantern hanging from the ceiling, the pitcher and the candlestick on the mantle.)

I used the carbon copy to simply tell me where the details go, and then I worked on one section at a time. For each, I did a new carbon copy, so that what was going on in that section was fresh in my mind and I wasn’t blindly going over lines I’d forgotten. It gets tricky sometimes knowing what the lines are trying to show you when there are so many of them.

Going section by section has its drawbacks. I sometimes didn’t have the tracing paper in line with the rest of the drawing so it’s not a very accurate copy. There are folds missing at the bottom of the angel’s robe and at the shoulder or shoulders of the angel and I started making stuff up while filling in the wings.

I also made the unfortunate mistake of using a ruler when applying the ink to the lines in the top half of the drawing, which made me comfortable enough to move the pen slowly across. I used a very fine gel pen (super fine) but I think I’d applied too much pencil, so the ink had trouble adhering to the paper’s surface. Oftentimes, the ink wouldn’t come out and I would go back and forth until it would issue forth little globs, which dot all the lines in that section. I should’ve known to not use a pencil or a ruler after my first attempt, but, ironically, I didn’t want to risk ruining the picture after successfully drawing the girl and the angel.

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I was so tired by the time I’d gotten to the “lesser” elements, that I said, “Hell with the pencil!” … and it was so much easier… and it didn’t feel impulsive. My hands had gotten used to drawing relatively straight lines, and the lines that weren’t straight were so light I could simply make correct lines right over them and simply move on. I see random lines in Durer’s drawing as well. I think he was unafraid of making mistakes and simply drew over the occasional bad line, or he made it apart of the drawing, like making a “happy mistake.”

In Conclusion:

There is a whole genre of visual art that depicts The Annunciation, so what makes this one stand out, if it does? I think it’s the overwhelming amount of details, and in the details there is nice “line flow.” You know when a sports commentator says “nice move” when watching an ice-skater twirl or be graceful in some way? That’s my reaction to so much of the line-work in this drawing. Every section has great lines, or you could simply say Durer had great style.

Materials

Strathmore Drawing Paper Series 300
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black

Copy of L’Annonciation (1526) from Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens, Premiere Serie, Troisieme Volume

Portrait de femme, buste

I’d discovered Albrecht Durer in an old book, Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens,while browsing a used bookstore in Tucson. With the exception of the first few pages, it’s comprised entirely of lithograph prints and each page is printed on only one side. They’re almost daring you to take the book apart and decorate your walls with its contents… but of course, I’m not tempted. I’m satisfied with simply leaving a book open on a given print for a few days, so that when I walk past it, I can be in the presence of something quite wonderful a few moments at a time.

I immediately fell in love with the “Lievre” or “Young Hare,” along with a number of other prints. So now, while on a mission to learn from as many great works as I can, I thought of this book. Initially, I was feeling ambitious, because I assumed it wouldn’t be that difficult, but then, looking at the lithographs I coveted, which were the ones more intricately designed, I could see that maybe I should begin with a test run, and so here it is.

Portrait de femme, buste

Step 1: I made a carbon copy. I traced the image onto tracing paper with a pencil and then went over it with a pen before erasing the pencil. I then applied graphite to the other side. Replacing the pencil of the initial trace with pen is an extra step, but it’s less messy as well.

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Step 2: I rubbed the side with the graphite onto some drawing paper.

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As you can see, the lines are kind of blurry, so I “smoothed” them over with a pencil, keeping in mind the flow of the lines, as well as how the eyes made the girl look kind of pretty or — I’m trying to think of something more specific — kind… maybe?

Step 3: I applied ink.

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I think I did a decent job smoothing over the eyes in pencil, so I waited until I applied ink before taking the next picture. Sadly, I applied ink a little too heavily, so the eyes look gloopy. I couldn’t believe it. I waited a day or so before starting again.

Steps 1 and 2 and some of 3: I made a carbon copy, applied the graphite to drawing paper and revised the image with a pencil, and began to apply ink.

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Graphite can be very messy and was distorting my view of the lines, so I quickly smoothed over and applied ink to the lines of the bodice before doing the same to the lines of the head.

Step 3: I finnished applying ink and then added highlights, using a white pastel pencil, to give more volume.

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There’s a prettiness to the subject, which is what I liked about the lithograph, which I couldn’t quite capture in my own copy. I drew and erased the eyes over and over again, before I gave up and applied the ink. I credit sheer muscle memory for getting the lines more or less “correct” with very little fuss, which made for more delicate lines. And yet, there’s still something missing. They are supposed to be “kind” eyes, and I made her frown a little in both my copies.

In Conclusion:

I thought making a copy of a lithograph print would be straightforward. If shadow and volume are all expressed using lines, then such a simple drawing should be simple to copy, line for line. But there is a problem, in producing portraits in general, as a person’s face often expresses complex emotions.

The more complex the emotion, the more intriguing it is — it makes me wonder what the subject is thinking.

I’m not sure which is more difficult: capturing the complexity of facial expression with more detail or less — with the subtle gradations of color, using watercolor or oils, or with a dash of a line using ink.  Making a copy of a seemingly simple drawing helps me appreciate the latter.

Materials

Strathmore Drawing Paper Series 300
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black
Pastel pencil, white

Copy of L’Annonciation (1526) from Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens, Premiere Serie, Troisieme Volume